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After a year of progress, here's what women's sport needs to work on

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Expert
7th March, 2019
27

Today is International Women’s Day, a day where people across the globe come together to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

It is also an opportunity to recognise how far we have come towards gender equality and parity while still acknowledging the work that still needs to be done.

In Australia, we have been fortunate enough to witness and be part of a revolution in women’s sport over the last couple of years.

As a result of established competitions like the WBBL, WNRL, AFLW, WNBL, W-League and Super Netball, young women across the country now grow up knowing that they have the chance to play sport in our premier domestic competitions.

More importantly, given the increased visibility of women’s sport, the next generation of girls and boys will live in a world where the expectation is that men and women can both be sports stars and successful athletes.

As acknowledged though, there is still plenty of work to do. Many of the competitions I’ve mentioned above are not professional and in some circumstances women are still juggling commitments like family, study and a job just so they can pursue the sports that they love.

While women are becoming increasingly visible on the field and in other spaces like administration and the media, roles in coaching seem to be minimal.

Additionally, given the dramas of this year’s NRL off-season, we also need to think about how welcome women feel in our sporting families and the impact that anti-social off-field behaviour has on the way that fans interact with our various sports.

Despite this, there has been progress in the last year and I wanted to share some of my stand-out moments.

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The past 12 months have been significant for women who play rugby league.

The NRL’s women’s competition kicked off in September with four inaugural teams: the Sydney Roosters, New Zealand Warriors, Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons.

The Brisbane Broncos won the inaugural NRLW grand final last year. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

While there was some negativity about only starting small and in response to the news that neither the Cronulla Sharks or South Sydney Rabbitohs would have a team, when the competition began this negativity dissipated.

Fans were impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the standard of the competition. Even more impressive was the way the NRL treated the competition – basically everything done for the men’s game including stats, Fantasy Points and television coverage was also done for the women’s game. This meant the competition truly lived up to its motto of ‘Same Game, Our Way’.

Additionally, the inaugural Women’s State of Origin held at North Sydney Oval was an exceptional success, playing at prime time on Fox Sports and Channel Nine with over 9000 in attendance.

The score wasn’t important that night. What I remember most was the fans streaming onto the field at the end of the game to embrace their new heroes.

Rugby league was not the only sport to launch its women’s competition last year. We still have a very long way to go in rugby union, particularly when it comes to the 15-player version of the game, but last year was the first year where I saw Rugby Australia take its development seriously.

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Rugby Australia launched the Super W competition, in January 2018 a new collective bargaining agreement was announced, which applies to the Wallaroos and Aussie Sevens team for the first time, including an agreement to pay the Wallaroos match payments for Tests.

In August, the Wallaroos played in a double-header alongside the Wallabies for the first time on Australian soil.

Then there have been the exceptional performances by the Matildas, the success of the Australian women’s cricket team and some world-leading individual performances from the likes of women like Jessica Fox, whose advocacy has played a significant role in the introduce the canoe slalom event (C1) being introduced at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Additionally, from a whole of sport perspective, the Male Champions of Change in Sport group recently released their ‘Pathway to Pay Equality’ initiative which is a plan about working towards equal pay for elite female athletes.

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So what would I like to see more of in the next year?

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I would like to see increasing levels of commitment by our sports to appropriately remunerate female athletes and take the lead from sports like cricket, where the Australian women’s cricket team and the NSW Breakers are fully professional teams. Hopefully the ‘Pathway to Pay Equality’ initiative assists with that.

There’s also a possibility that we may see a woman be the main on-field referee for a rugby league game this year, with Belinda Sleeman being given that opportunity in a trial match a few weeks ago.

This would be a significant moment for the game and increases visibility of female officials and follows in the footsteps of other female officials like Claire Polosak (cricket) and Eleni Glouftis (AFL).

But the area I think we have the most work to do in is in relation to coaching. Whilst our female elite competitions have been introduced there are very few female coaches given the short seasons.

Each day – thanks to the extraordinary efforts to all women involved in sport whether as administrators, fans, referees, players or volunteers, as well as the men who support these women – we move closer to a more gender equal world, particularly when it comes to sport.

I look forward to reflecting back on this moment in time in the future and seeing how much additional progress has been made.